Women in Cinema and Movies

Introduction and brief history

          The extent to which images of men and women are conventionalized in the cinema demonstrates the power of gender norms. Nevertheless, the history of cinematic representations of gender is characterized by tensions, contradictions, and change. Between its invention in 1895 and the imposition of the Production Code in the early 1930s, American cinema was torn between the modern idea of the New Woman and the antimodern Cult of True Womanhood—a Victorian ideology that prescribed for women the four cardinal virtues of purity, piety, domesticity, and submission. In early cinema, before the stabilization of industry standards and norms and while cinema still lacked respectability, women on the screen were often active, sexual, and even feminist. The possibility that the genres of movies then encouraged active, curious, militant female spectatorship was the cause of some social concern at the time, especially in the case of the white slave films. There was also concern that the movie theaters were drawing women into new and unsafe public spaces. Early cinema formed part of a modern urban cultural scene in which women's increased mobility was both cause and effect of changes in their social roles.

          In later silent cinema, the dialectical tension between old and new model femininities can be most clearly seen in the contrasting stereotypes of the virgin, personified by stars like Mary Pickford (1893–1979) and Lillian Gish (1893–1993), and the vamp, most notoriously embodied by Theda Bara (1885–1955) and Clara Bow (1905–1965). However, flapper films of the 1920s, such as The Dancing Mothers (1926) and It (1927), depicted and addressed the modern, active, independent women of the decade that began with their enfranchisement.
          The impact of historical events on gender roles often appears in indirect and mediated ways in Hollywood cinema. The Depression and the New Deal generated an ethos of selflessness that arguably informed maternal melodramas such as Stella Dallas (1937), although the film makes no explicit reference to the economics or ideology of the times. Many critics have noted the influence of World War II on gender roles in the woman's film and film noir, genres that have been said to participate in the complex postwar readjustments of social roles for both men and women. The twin figures of the war veteran misfit and the woman whose contribution to the work-force is no longer required have been said to inform the maladjusted femininities and masculinities of many films of the late 1940s that otherwise lack explicit sociological content.

Women in American film industry

          There is definitely an inequality between men and women working in the film industry.  In fact, out of the 250 top grossing films of 2007, only 15% of the directors, writers, executive producers, cinematographers, and editors were women. But how did this inequality come to be?  It is a hypothesis that since the beginnings of the film industry, when males completely dominated the important production jobs, the male gaze has become a necessary visual narrative tool; and because of this unconscious acceptance of the male gaze, these techniques have become standard for all directors, regardless of their gender. The camera became, in many ways, gendered independently from the gender of the director.  From here, the assumption is made that Hollywood is a male-dominated industry, because the mainstream movies being produced are much more male-friendly than female-oriented. This, in turn, has led to Hollywood actually being a male-dominated industry; and while the percentage of women working in high-level jobs has increased over time, it hasn’t been by much. The early gendering of the camera has led to a very gendered film industry world today. Clearly, industry standards have been set, both artistically and professionally, with a distinctly male undertone. Mulvey describes this in her article, saying that “it faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language…while still caught within the language of the patriarchy. There is no way in which we can produce an alternative out of the blue”.

          On the other hand, when we analyze how women appears in the American movies, we notice another kind of stereotyping evoked from the different origins of the US population, where it shows the white American woman as a strong woman who wants to be independent, and loyal to her country. While the black American woman in most movies appear as single mother, have a relations with the gangsters in her neighborhood, and have a dirty history. Whereby, women from Latin America appears to be thieves, sluts, and looking for rich old men to be with. For Arab women in American movies, they appears to be like always covering their whole body, very passive, and mostly can’t speaks English.

Empirical Analysis of American films:

          The Celluloid Ceiling is a report compiled by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and professor at the School of Theatre, Television and Film at San Diego State University. Her industry-wide study, spanning 1998-2009, closely examines women and their role within the film industry. The Celluloid Ceiling focuses on the number of women that are working within the film industry in different positions. In the 2009 study, Lauzen reported that “in 2009, women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 3 percentage points from 2001 and is even with 2008 figures”. This statistic is broken down as follows: directors 7% (a 2% decrease since 2008), writers 8%, executive producers 17%, producers 23%, editors 18%, and cinematographers 2%. When studying the Celluloid Ceiling and its statistics, a few factors rise to the surface. First, the number of women within Above-the-Line positions is unacceptably low. Second, these dismal numbers have stayed consistent over the course of Lauzen’s study, with a vast majority of films having no women working in certain Above-the-Line positions. An aspect extrapolated from the Celluloid Ceiling study to consider is the perception of gender specific job roles within the industry. Producers, which are comprised of the highest percentage of women, develop and fund a project from beginning to end. They are heavily involved with negotiating different personalities, keeping the film on schedule and within budget, and to nurture the film from start to finish. A producer’s skills are often aligned with traditionally “feminine” traits: nurturing,
managing, and negotiating. Conversely, cinematographers, which are comprised of the lowest percentage of females, is an extremely technical job dealing with (but not limited to) calculating the film stock needed for a specific look, measuring light and distance, and the precise control of lens and camera techniques. Cinematographer’s skills are aligned with traditionally “masculine” traits: technical acumen, manual dexterity, and quantitative skills. It is evident that those in power within the industry rely on archaic notions about the feminine gender, and still perceive certain professions to be gender specific. Hence, within the Hollywood Production Culture, the glass ceiling is replaced with Lauzen’s “celluloid ceiling”.

          Stacy L. Smith, a Ph.D. at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California, explains why it is important to have women in Above the-Line positions. The Gender Report studies the 100 top-grossing films of 2007. Smith’s Gender Report states: “onscreen gender roles are a function—to some degree—of the gender composition of behind-the-camera workers”. While examining writers, directors, and producers, Smith’s study found that “17% of these jobs are filled by women: 3% in directing, 11.2% in writing, and 20.5% in producing”. Smith’s report also indicates that when women are present behind-the- camera, the number of actresses in front-of-the-camera increases. When films are directed by women, 44% of the characters are female, as opposed to 29.3% when directed by men. When women write a screenplay, 34.9% of their characters are female, as opposed to 28.1% when a screenplay is written by a man. A woman producer will have 30.8% female onscreen characters, while her male counterpart will have 26.4%. In all three instances, the amount of women in front of the camera rises when women hold Above-the-Line positions behind it. The study also found that female characters become more complex when women are involved Above the-Line. They transition from one- dimensional side characters to more complex beings, thus, more interesting and realistic. Another effect that Above-the-Line women have on actresses is the amount of sexual exploitation that they are subjected to. Smith states: “the presence of a female on the production team [is] associated with a 6.8-10.8% reduction in the percentage of characters shown with some nudity”. Women on the production team remove actresses from being sexual objects into being an equal within the story and the plotline. Why is having a woman in Above-the-Line positions important? The answer is that “films featuring women working as directors, writers, or producers are associated with a higher percentage of girls and women on the silver screen than those films with only men in these sacrosanct positions”. Smith’s report demonstrates that when women are employed in Above-the-Line positions it represents a broader cultural shift. Women in Above-the-Line positions bring immediate change to the production of popular American culture by furthering the empowerment and representation of women on the silver screen.

Women in Hindi film industry

          The narratives of Hindi cinema have undoubtedly been male dominated and male centric. Themes have been explored from the male audience’s point of view. The heroine is always secondary to the hero. Her role is charted out in context of any male character which is central to the script. It may be the hero, the villain, the father, the boss, an elderly male figure etc. She is devoid of any independent existence and her journey throughout the film is explored in relation to the male character. This kind of straight-jacketing limits the women’s role to providing glamour, relief, respite and entertainment. Another trend to be examined in the depiction of female characters is the clear dichotomy which is followed. The woman is docile, domestic, honorable, noble, and ideal or she is the other extreme – wayward, reckless and irresponsible. It also shows – in some movies- how two women are pitted against each other to win over the same man, while he enjoys his fling openly. Further, it shows the “man” as the savior and the “woman” as the victim is also prominently seen in Hindi cinema discourse. The heroine is a damsel in distress who has to be rescued by the hero if she is in trouble. Scene after scene of heroes rescuing their ladies from the clutches of villains have been captured by the camera.

          On the positive side, there are a chunk of film-makers who have reacted against the stereotypes set by mainstream cinema and have dared to explore subjects from the women’s perspective. Contemporary films like No One Killed Jessica (2011), Cheeni Kum (2007), Chameli (2003), Ishqiya (2010), Paa (2009) and Dirty Picture (2011) have pictured extraordinary themes and portrayed women as central to the story line. These films have forced creators to take a fresh look at the different roles played by women and introspect into the kind of typecast that was being perpetuated earlier.

Women in Iranian film industry

          In Iran, the film industry is more dominated by men too, the percentage of women behind the screen and onscreen are less than men, also less than the percentage of women in film industry in western countries. In regards to post revolution cinema in Iranian film industry, generally women more than men in films under investigation are screened doing actions which are typical signs of licensed or psychological withdrawal and it is worthy of attention that inter-sex differences relating to this issue are statistically meaningful. It means that women, more than men, perform such actions which make them inactive in the position or situation of interaction. Also it shows that women are generally more than men screened at home or in family circle. That is to say they are seen accompanying their children either indoors or outdoors; they look after a child or do babysitting in films; they are often seen to be on the phone indoors and not outdoors, indicating a link between women and home, men and outdoors. Further men more than women give occupational order to opposite sex and train or supervise them in films. On the other hand, women are screened to submit reports to their super-ordinate men.

Women in Egyptian film industry

          As in other countries, Egyptian film industry is men-dominated too, both behind screen and on screen. There are few women working in important production jobs, but their number is very low comparing to the number of men in this jobs. About the image of women in Egyptian movie I attached in Arabic the findings of an Egyptian study conducted based on them. (See the appendix)

Women in Palestinian film industry

          When talking about Palestine, there is a great evolution in the last years in making films, also this evolution created more space for women to represent their selves and issues in movies and to be a significant part in film industry, like Shashat multimedia productions. The problem with Shashat appears in their audience where most of the movies they produce go to the western audience and to compete in universal movies festivals rather than market it in Palestine for Palestinians whom more in need to make the changes.

Women challenges in film industry

          Women are consistently underrepresented in Above-the-Line positions, are often paid less when they are employed, and make a noticeable difference on female representations when they do obtain jobs. Yet why are women unable to break through the “celluloid ceiling”? One hypothesis that examines the low percentage of women within the industry asserts that women self select out in light of the rigorous lifestyle associated with filmmaking. In a joint interview, some of the industry’s most successful Above-the-Line women spoke about the issues they face. Andrea Berloff, writer/producer of World Trade Center, asks “Is it self-selection? I’ve gone after some very male-centric jobs, and I have gotten them, and I don’t feel that I’m being prevented from getting them because of my gender. So I wonder why aren’t more women trying?”. Self-selection is the notion that women are choosing not to participate Above-the-Line, and that male executives within the industry are not purposely denying women access. Kimberly Peirce, the writer/director/producer of Boys Don’t Cry and Stop Loss, explains why self-selection is considered at all: “You get into your second, your third movie, and you’re building a career, and it’s hitting smack up against those years when you want to have a child”. Filmmaking is a “blood sport” that requires an extraordinary commitment of time and energy. In order to do this one has to compromise in other areas of life, and sometimes that compromise is unacceptable. Some women self select out of the industry because of the pressures that it places on their personal life.

Women on screen

          Women on screen mostly dealt with as an object and passive creatures. And that is what the women in film industry are fighting to change in the first place. The image of women as movies shows it underestimate the value of women, and reinforce the old traditional view of women, and put them in rigid forms that even worse than the old tradition, and it is obvious when movies deals with females and objects not as human beings. Hence, women in movies confined between being submissive, sexual object, follower, dependent, and restricted to house chores or easy jobs. What makes the situation awful for women the presence of females working in important production jobs whom also presenting this malformed and degrading image of women.

Female Actresses in day life

          When most of people envy actresses for their wealthy and luxury life, only few of them realize how hard their life is. When we look at the dimensions of actresses life in details, no one can ignore how journalism always chasing them everywhere, which means that actresses have less space of privacy than ordinary people, have less chance to make mistakes that ordinary people can do, also and in the first place, they can’t live as a normal human, can’t go out in places they loved to go before they became famous.
          Another dimension make the life of actresses - specially female ones-  is their body image and shape, where they must keep them selves fit and looks sexy which makes it hard for them to follow a very restricted diets, go into some plastic surgeries that in the end throw them out of the sense of humanity and being looked at as a robot, TV doll, or unwanted ideal and role-model “as some of female actresses said in their interviews”. Also the rapid changes in fashions effect female actresses and forcing them to follow this rapid changes and representing it in their daily life which put more pressure and limits to life as they love and be nature.

“Hollywood says: there is no business like show business”

1- Gender and Technology Spring 2009, A multi-disciplinary course taught by Anne Dalke and Laura Blankenship. Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA USA.
2- Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema.” Screen Autumn 1975: 6-18.
3-  Lauzen, Martha. “Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the
Top 250 Films of 2009.” Celluloid Ceiling 2010. 1-2. Print.
4- Lauzen, Martha.  “Contemplating the Celluloid Ceiling.” Media Report to Women.
Summer 2009: 22-24. Print.
5- Lauzen, Martha. “Women @ the Box Office: A Study of the Top 100 Worldwide
Grossing Films.” Center for the Study of Women in Television
and Film, San Diego State University, CA. 2008: 1-2. Print.
6- Smith, Stacy. “Gender Oppression in Cinematic Content?: A Look at Females On-Screen & Behind-the-Camera in Top-Grossing 2007 Film.” Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California. 2009: 1-28. Print.
7- Traister, Rebecca. “Chicks Behind the Flicks.” Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 11 Oct. 2007. Web. 4 November 2012.
8- M. Gordfaramarzi,  A. Kazemi. “Iranian Movies and Gender display: a Study in Post Revolution Cinema” International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology, Vol. 1, No. 2, June 2010.
9- N. Tere. “Gender Reflection in Mainstream Hindi Cinema”.  Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat, India. June, 2012.


اهتمت السينما المصرية في فترة التسعينيات بالمرأة العصرية، ولم تتعرض للأبعاد الحقيقية في شخصيتها من الناحية الإنسانية والأدبية ، وأغفلت تماماً قضايا المرأة الكادحة والمرأة في الريف . وحصرت صورة المرأة في نماذج متشابهة تهدف من ورائها مداعبة غرائز الجمهور وإثارته، أصبح هناك تقصير شديد في طرح وتجسيد صورة المرأة الحقيقية.

جاء ذلك في رسالة ماجستير للباحثة إحسان سعيد عبد المجيد المعيدة بالمركز القومي للبحوث الاجتماعية والجنائية، تحت عنوان " صور المرأة المصرية في السينما في فترة التسعينيات" حصلت خلالها الباحثة علي درجة الماجستير بتقدير امتياز من جامعة عين شمس تحت إشراف د.إجلال إسماعيل أستاذ الاجتماع

أكدت الباحثة أن هناك مغالاة في تجسيد العنف بالأفلام السينمائية في تلك الفترة ، سواء العنف الذي تمارسه المرأة في الأفلام أو الذي يمارس ضدها . كما لم تقدم تلك الأعمال السينمائية نموذجاً للمرأة القدوة التي يعول عليها في الصمود والقدرة علي الارتقاء ومواجهة مشاكلها

تناولت الدراسة البحثية - من خلال الإحصاء وتحليل - القضايا التي شغلت حيزاً وفيراً في سينما التسعينيات وكان لها أثر بالغ في تسليط الضوء علي أوجه خاصة في شكل المرأة علي الشاشة متضمنة قضايا حيوية لعبت فيها المرأة دور البطولة سواء علي المستوي الإيجابي أو السلبي . فعلي سبيل المثال تناولت الدراسة في سياق تعرضها للصور الإيجابية أشكالاً عديدة من بينها قدرة المرأة علي مواجهة مشكلاتها الاجتماعية ومحاولتها التكيف مع الواقع الراهن بكل ما يعتريه من متغيرات

أوضحت الباحثة إحسان سعيد في رسالتها أن بعض أفلام التسعينيات عبرت عن مزايا المرأة وإيجابيتها في صراعها مع الرجل ، ولكن هذه الصورة تبدو استثناء من القاعدة. فتشير الدراسة إلى صورة المرأة السلبية في أفلام التسعينيات، وحصر دور المرأة في علاقتها الجنسية بالرجل . كما قدمت سينما التسعينات صوراً مبالغاً فيها للمرأة المنحرفة ، ووضعتها في دوائر محظورة ، فجعلتها قاتلة وتاجرة مخدرات وداعرة . وأصبح الشكل الغالب عليها هو الانتهازية والجشع والغرور والخيانة

وتشابهت صورة المرأة في كثير من الأفلام فنشأ التكرار ، وابتعد المبدعون عن التميز والتفرد ، وجعلوا يغالون في إظهار ضعف المرأة
. ولعل أهم الأفلام التي جسدت الصورة السلبية للمرأة في تلك المرحلة فيل "ليلة القتل " لأشرف فهمي . و" القاتلة " لإيناس الدغيدي و" امرأة وخمس رجال " لعلاء كريم و" جبر الخواطر " لعاطف الطيب و" عتبة الستات " لعلي عبد الخالق

وفي محاولة لتسليط الضوء علي النموذج الثالث لشكل المرأة اهتمت السينما بتجسيد الصورة العصرية ، وركزت علي الشكل الخارجي للمرأة المتمثل في الزي ولون الشعر . وأغفلت النواحي الأصلية في الشخصية كالمستوي العلمي والثقافي . ويبدو ذلك واضحاً في أفلام "الراقصة والسياسي" لسمير سيف. و"اشتباه" لعلاء كريم . و"كلام الليل" لإيناس الدغيدي.
واهتمت الدراسة بعلاقة المرأة وظروفها بالرجل ، وألمحت إلي مستوياتها الفنية والثقافية والاجتماعية ، كما تطرقت إلي أوجه التعامل وحجم الأضرار التي وقعت عليها

أخيراً تؤكد الباحثة إحسان سعيد أن سينما التسعينيات لم تقدم حلولاً إيجابية لحماية المرأة . كما جاءت معظم أدوار المرأة في تلك الأفلام والمتصلة بالحياة السياسية سطحية وغير فعالة.

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